What's #Grief Got to Do With It? ala Tina Turner. A lot it turns out...Thoughts on losing my little #Mom, #adoption and life...
I always know it's time to write when I keep going over what I want to convey for days at a time. I don't know if other writers do this, but I write my articles in my head first, edit and refine them and then they spill over when I sit down to actually put "pen to paper" so to speak.
However, this time, even though I've been mulling what I want to say about grief and the loss of my mom for the past week and longer, my thoughts are still jumbled, I haven't figured it all out, nor am I sure I want to.
Hopefully, by writing my thoughts down it will begin to make sense - at least to me.
Reader, hate to break it you, but you're just along for the ride...:)
As in the words of Counting Crows Big Yellow Taxi song, "Don't it always seem to go That you don't know what you got 'til it's gone" this best describes my feelings and experiences since losing my little Mom this past May 1, 2016.
I never realized how much I counted on her until losing her. She was my best friend, my cheerleader, my confidante, my driver when I needed her to be, my travel companion, my IT department, my assistant, my mentor, my travel advisor, my spiritual advisor, my friend I sat with at church, my friend I went out to eat with like here in this picture at the Long Beach Lobster Festival, my mover, my car buyer, my apartment hunter, my solace, and my heart.
I miss her so much and each day when I think it can't hurt any more than when she first died, something else reminds me of how much I depended on her to be there for me.
Like now, hobbling around on crutches with a strained calf muscle. As if not being able to fully use my hands isn't bad enough. Sometimes you are forced to slow down and feel regardless of whether you want to or not.
I'm participating in my church's Grief Share program which has been very comforting. It's nice to have a place to go each week where it's ok to cry, share memories, learn from a 45 min video featuring experts and others who have lost a loved one, and comfort others who are grieving too.
The corresponding workbook which provides 5 daily devotions and places to journal has been very encouraging too. It helps to get what's in my mind out and down on paper. And later, to be able to share what spoke to us most.
One of the recommended Grief Share tools is writing a grief letter to friends and family explaining what you're going through and how they might help. I didn't really want to do it, but after seeing my sink full of dirty dishes, my clean laundry still not put away after 3 days, and being unable to drive without more pain, realized maybe writing this blog would do the same thing.
Those who are interested in what I'm going through and how they might help will read my "grief letter."
Those who don't, won't.
And that's okay.
Losing my Mom has drastically affected my life in more ways than ever imagined. I remember when someone I was working with asked me how I was doing and at that point I was still in denial and said, "I'm fine."
But the longer it's been since my Mom died, the more I see that I'm not fine.
I will be down the road perhaps, but right now?
Not so fine. Not fine at all.
It may appear so when you see me smiling or doing something interesting, but it's always there, a heartbeat away from coming to the surface.
Grief apparently exacerbates your emotional state and causes intense reactions of anger, among other emotions. I'm experiencing this now and hope writing this will help those who have experienced my intense feelings of anger will give me grace and forgive me because I am having trouble controlling it, but am really working hard on healing in therapy as a result.
As Grief.com explains:
"Anger is a necessary stage of the healing process. Be willing to feel your anger, even though it may seem endless. The more you truly feel it, the more it will begin to dissipate and the more you will heal.
There are many other emotions under the anger and you will get to them in time, but anger is the emotion we are most used to managing. The truth is that anger has no limits. It can extend not only to your friends, the doctors, your family, yourself and your loved one who died, but also to God. You may ask, “Where is God in this? Underneath anger is pain, your pain.
It is natural to feel deserted and abandoned, but we live in a society that fears anger. Anger is strength and it can be an anchor, giving temporary structure to the nothingness of loss. At first grief feels like being lost at sea: no connection to anything. Then you get angry at someone, maybe a person who didn’t attend the funeral, maybe a person who isn’t around, maybe a person who is different now that your loved one has died. Suddenly you have a structure – – your anger toward them.
The anger becomes a bridge over the open sea, a connection from you to them. It is something to hold onto; and a connection made from the strength of anger feels better than nothing. We usually know more about suppressing anger than feeling it. The anger is just another indication of the intensity of your love."
In another book I recently read, When Parents Die, whose "topics range from the psychological responses to a parent's death such as shock, depression, and guilt, to the practical consequences such as dealing with estates and funerals," I learned some people don't experience the typical five stages of grief at all, or they bounce around like I seem to be doing.
I have family members who think if they just keep moving, doing, traveling and escaping this reality of their spouse/mother being dead they will get past the painful feelings, but what I see happening, and experts concur, you don't ever "get past them" you bury them and they show up later.
If you deny feelings of sadness, loss, and depression, then you're more apt to respond with no emotions, nor feel other emotions as fully, or react in anger that's much more than the situation you're angry with would normally involve.
I wonder now if my Dad losing his Father two days before I was born and possibly never really grieving that loss fully explains why we've always had a difficult, distant relationship whereas my sisters have not.
I'll never know because my Dad isn't in touch with his feelings enough to ever confirm or deny. That's just him and I'm learning to accept him as he is and have compassion on who he is because at 83 years old, he ain't changing much.:)
How my family handles their grief over Mom dying is their journey, not mine. All I know right now is, I can't be there for them, nor can I expect them to be there for me because none of us have anything to give each other. We may want to, but we just don't.
And that's okay too.
When my Mom first died, all I felt was numb, like I was going through the motions. I felt this way when I placed my son in adoption when he was first born and realize now, going through my Mom's death, my adoption was a very similar experience.
Even though he didn't die when I placed him in our open adoption, the experience and reality of being a full-time mother raising him died when I signed the final legal papers finalizing our adoption. The finality of it was deeply wounding, knowing I would not be raising my only child, and took years and years of therapy to heal.
It was every bit as much a loss/death to me as losing my Mom.
I was numb for weeks, so depressed I became suicidal only pulling out of it when I went on an antidepressant which caused me to gain weight I've never been able to lose, and drastically changed my career path causing me to shut down my short film festival because short films were a constant reminder of what I had lost.
I began writing for the Los Angeles Convention & Visitors Bureau and thought I would pursue a journalism career, but when I saw my paychecks and the amount of work and hours I put into writing at the level I like to write, I knew it wasn't sustainable and began looking for alternative careers.
Not to say I wouldn't write for them again on a freelance basis, but just not as a full-time career.
Having marketed filmmakers for five years, it was a natural career decision to begin repping entertainment clients as a publicist because I knew the language, I knew the players, I knew the media and I knew it intimately from many levels - fundraising, pitching, showcasing, selecting, gathering judges, experts and others to support my vision.
Pitching over 300 agents/managers to get my client representation? No biggie. Happy to do it.
Writing press releases that get placement in multiple media outlets? No problem.
My PR Mentor, Marcia Groff, taught me the fine points of writing a press release and media relations based on her years of experience repping numerous major music acts while working for EMI America Records as National Coordinator of Artist Relations working with Kenny Rogers, Sir Cliff Richard, Kim Carnes, Sheena Easton and David Bowie.
Plus, taking a PR certificate program at UCLA Extension, attending multiple seminars, classes and workshops also further refined and validated my expertise.
Approaching publishers at BEA to pitch my author client and my open adoption book? No problem.
Although I did find it ironic none of the Christian publishers wanted my adoption story because my son was born out-of-wedlock and didn't fit prescribed Christian thinking. Readers Digest was interested until they read the anger I had still not fully healed from after my adoption.
Only positive, life-affirming stories for them too I guess. However, my story then was real. It was raw. And it was what many birthmoms experience immediately after an adoption.
Only no one ever wants to hear it.
It would ruin their view of adoption because in life, only the adoptive parent's life experiences matter or are supported because they're dealing with raising a child not their own. Never mind the woman left behind dealing with the loss. We don't exist in many book aisles because publishers don't think anyone will care.
How wrong they are. I devoured every book I could find on what the birth mom's experience was like because I wanted to know what I was getting myself into. I wanted to know if my feelings were normal. I wanted to understand. To be understood.
I wanted to heal.
However, many of the books that were published were written in the 60's, only spoke about closed adoptions, weren't my life experience at all and even though I could relate to certain aspects, much of it was drastically different. That's why I wrote my book proposal and worked on getting published.
I had heard Jamie Lee Curtis was somehow related to adoption and managed to attend an event where she was speaking and gave her my first couple of chapters to read. She read it, called me, and because I was on the other line I didn't pick up for some reason and missed speaking to her. She was so kind and told me it was a very moving story and needed to be told. She didn't leave her number and I never contacted her again after that.
It was the kind of encouragement I needed to hear then and remembering it even now, I have a soft spot in my heart for her as a person, while continuing to admire her as an actress/author.
And I'll be ready for it.
I found when I would speak to women who had experienced adoption back in the 60's who would call into Rose Vista Maternity Home where I was living at the time while I healed those mothers were angry at me for suggesting adoption to the pregnant women who lived there because they had never processed or accepted their decision.
Many had had adoption forced upon them with no recourse. I would have hated that too!
However, that wasn't my experience. I was choosing adoption. I was choosing the parents to raise my son. I was choosing to be able to stay in touch.
I had choices.
They did not.
I understood their anger, their pain and their hurt, but it's always been my goal to share a positive story on adoption because even though it was devastating at the time it happened, I'm at peace with it now after much counseling, much activism and speaking to potential adoptive parents and adoptees with unresolved abandonment issues.
I knew what I wanted to give my son through our open adoption and feel we have a good relationship because of that.
I even flew to DC to speak at a conference which C-Span covered to show that there really are three choices when faced with an unexpected pregnancy. It doesn't have to only be abortion, or raising your child as a single parent. You can also lovingly place your child with a family who would love to raise your child with all the benefits, security and financial resources many birthmoms aren't able to provide at the time.
I had people come up afterward to speak to me who appreciated my simplicity of thought and sharing my experience so boldly. But the woman who touched me most was someone who came up after and wanted me to hear her personal experiences with her multiple adoptions.
Once she had shared, I hugged her and told her thank you for sharing, she turned around without a word, and left, silently disappearing into the crowd.
It was like all she wanted was someone to hear her and share her pain. I get that. Sometimes all I want is someone to hear me about my Mom and what I miss about her which is why I'm so grateful my aunt, my Mom's youngest sister, is there for me.
I can't discuss this with my sisters because they're dealing with their own grief and we're reacting in negative ways which aren't healthy for any of us. Despite outward appearances, my mother's death was an extremely hurtful, wounding experience among my immediate family for all of us. Pictures of us smiling belie the hurtful words and actions that happened then, but it's a memory nonetheless which is why I keep them.
It's been safer and healthier just to take the break I need to heal without them and even my Dad to a certain extent, I'm finding.
I kinda experienced this with one sister when I chose my adoption too. While we were caring for my Mom together while Mom was on her deathbed, Grace was shocked to hear I was still in communication with the adoptive family because she had assumed it would be over when I placed him with them.
Nope. We're still in each other's lives. For better or worse.:)
That's the misconception I think a lot of people have about the way adoptions can be handled now. I don't blame Grace for being ignorant, many are, but hopefully by my continuing to share my life experience with my open adoption and others too, we'll begin to remove the stigma and mystery surrounding this life choice.
I get to see my son grow up, hear about his life and hope to one day have more of a relationship with him when he's ready. I always chose to stay in touch because I never wanted him to doubt my love for him or the reason I chose adoption was because I didn't want him, but because I wasn't able to fully parent him in the way I was raised and wanted him to experience - with a loving Mother and Father.
Especially since he's bi-racial and felt he needed a positive male role-model growing up in today's society.
But I digress. Where was I? Oh yeah, my Mom's death and my subsequent loss.
The other interesting thing I've discovered about grief is that the longer you numb out on antidepressants, the longer it takes to heal. As a result, I worked hard to get off mine by gaining support through a therapist, my Grief Share group, a massage therapist, and friends who are sensitive to what I'm going through, having experienced the loss of a loved one themselves, or having backgrounds in psychology and healing.
My Psychiatrist could see I was in a much better place than when I had originally come into see him sobbing uncontrollably and agreed with me, just asking to touch base in a few months to see if I still feel good. I'm sure I will.
I like having my sex drive back. I like feeling again and being able to cry. It feels good to feel human, rather than repressed and inhuman. And my uncontrollable sobbing and negative thinking has diminished. Not gone completely, because I'm still grieving, but it's much less.
I learned about the repression and effects of antidepressants on the brain while watching TED talks on grief, which I highly recommend watching if you're going through a loss yourself. Very helpful information there.
Here's one I listened to which I liked, but there's numerous others too. Find one that speaks to you...
Check out www.ted.com for a WIDE variety of subjects, experts from all over the world and you will be amazed at how you grow and change after listening. I study topics I'm interested in like grief, travel, leadership and humor by fully immersing myself in a topic and listening to everything there is available.
You can watch however you like though. They're free and suited to how you want to learn and grow. Highly recommend checking it out. But that's my experience. May not be yours.
Having friends and group support doesn't protect you from feeling feelings of sadness, loss and anger which is why I know I still have a lot of work to do to heal. I've also recognized that the trauma I've carried throughout my life that I've never fully addressed is coming to the forefront during this time because the loss of my pillar of support, my Mom, makes me feel more vulnerable, more alone, and more aware of my need to grow and change and heal now more than ever.
Her death is also helping me clarify what I will and won't accept in my life which is healthy. It's changing the way I look at my remaining immediate family, lowering my expectations on them, and giving me the freedom to pursue healthier relationships that are nurturing, loving and supportive outside my immediate family.
As one of my friends said her friend told her, We may be born from our parents into the family we ended up in, but that doesn't mean we owe them anything to stay attached. So, I'm learning to detach with love and back away slowly. It's painful, I don't know how long I will do it, but as I heal and redefine who I am in the world without my Mom it's needed.
My Mom, although she was great in many ways, never believed I accomplished everything I had with my career. She constantly told me I was lying, even when I showed her my work and my clients as proof, and never attended any of the bigger career moments in my life like producing an awards ceremony on the backlot of Paramount Studios.
She even told me to stop putting so many accomplishments on my resume because no one would want to hire me. As a result, I began hiding parts of myself I felt would threaten employers, potential boyfriends and others to fit more into her acceptable view of what a female should be.
Despite the fact she was simply a hairstylist with only an AA Degree, never had any career experiences like mine and didn't understand my world at all, I wanted to please her though and secretly thought maybe she was right.
What's been interesting since her death is my choosing to finally reclaim who I fully am. I'm tired of downplaying what I've done, where I've been, and what I've accomplished. I've sacrificed a lot over the years, I've earned it and I'm proud of my life accomplishments.
You can learn more about my professional life here: www.thejoywriterpr.com
I also decided to pursue becoming a TED Fellow because watching all the TED Talks while I did work that doesn't require my full brain, I heard people I could relate to, learn from, enjoyed hearing, and knew I would grow from being around. Who knows if they will accept me or not, but it really helped me to reframe my own life while filling out the application which took over 6 hours to complete.
As the Swahili sign we often saw while driving around Kenya said, Pole Pole. Slowly, slowly.
Or as the 12-step slogan says, Progress, not perfection.
I knew my Mom from the day I was born until her final breath which I was there to experience. I will always cherish the final months we were able to spend together. Normally she would forget my birthday, leave with the rest of my family to celebrate Christmas without me, leaving me to fend for myself alone and feeling abandoned, but this last Christmas was different.
She returned home early from visiting my sister in Austin while my Dad continued to stay for three weeks and it was just me and her.
She was sick and I took care of her bringing her soup, Gatorade, and making sure she was ok in between work.
She was thrilled to have time alone to play with her new sewing machine which you can see here that we're now trying to sell including the table and corresponding other pattern table.
See it up close here: Top-of-the-line Bernina for Sale
Interested? Contact me...
I'm grateful my Mom was open to going to San Diego to visit my Aunt and surprised us both with special birthday cakes making this my first birthday in years that she actually acknowledged and celebrated. She even spoke with regret that she had never thought of doing this years earlier and promised that from that time on we would celebrate together again.
I will always cherish that time and the knowledge my little Mom loved me as much as I loved her.
There's more memories, but I think I've bent your ear enough and written enough for now. Thanks for reading all the way to here if you have. Look forward to hearing your thoughts in the comments below, or via email. I moderate comments and don't always see them though until later fyi.
I would especially love to hear from those of you who knew my Mom, or had met my Mom, because it has been really lovely to receive emails, cards, and texts with that encouragement and understanding point-of-view.
Just please don't tell me like my high school counselor, Shirley did, I liked your sister's talk better at the funeral. Not helpful, or what I want to hear. Thanks Shirley. LOL
I look forward to continuing to grow and heal and will write more later. Hopefully, on happier topics.